Though he’s not in the United States to contest the under-23 national road championships in Bend, Oregon, the past week has been a bit of a homecoming for Taylor Phinney.
The Trek-Livestrong rider is vacationing with his family in Corvara, in Northern Italy’s Dolomites Mountains. It’s a region Phinney knows well; his parents, decorated U.S. bike racers Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter, have run cycling camps in the Dolomites for years, and the entire family lived in Marostica, Italy, when the younger Phinney was a teenager.
In addition to celebrating his 20th birthday with his family (on June 27), Phinney is also celebrating the announcement earlier this week that he will ride as a stagiaire for Lance Armstrong’s RadioShack squad during the second half of the season.
Though he’s had offers to sign a ProTour contract since the 2008 season, Phinney had held out in order “refine the art of winning races” at the under-23 level. But after an impressive 2010 season that’s seen him take road wins at the Olympia’s Tour, Paris-Roubaix Espoirs and a criterium stage at the SRAM Tour of the Gila, as well as a successful defense of his world pursuit title, Phinney can confidently check “development” off his to-do list.
“I’ve had the option to turn pro for a few years, but I never really felt ready until now,” Phinney told VeloNews Friday. “The reason I wanted to wait was to follow a path more like Tejay Van Garderen, who has always been a strong rider and won hard U23 races and finally had a chance to turn pro with a solid team. There’s something about staying a certain rank and learning how to win bike races; about being better than the other riders and being able to win races consistently.
“With the help of an amazing team I was able to do that this year. The plan at the beginning of the season was, ‘Go out and win as much as you can, and when you see an opportunity, take it.’ And that’s the reason I ride a bike, to put my hands up in the air at the finish line.”
Phinney started the 2010 road season with his first UCI race, the Tour of Qatar, where he finished seventh and eighth in field sprints against riders like Tom Boonen, Francesco Chicchi and J.J. Haedo.
“Qatar went better than expected, but better there’s something to be said for doing well in February, when everyone is gearing up for the season, rather than doing well in August, when the season is in full swing,” he said.
A stage win at Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux followed in early April, followed by the stage win at Gila, ahead of domestic sprint king Ivan Dominguez.
But it was in late May that Phinney peaked, winning four stages and the overall, including both time trials, at the Olympia’s Tour. He followed that up with a defense of his U23 Roubaix title on May 30, won from a three-man sprint, marking the first time an espoir has taken back-to-back wins in the Roubaix velodrome in the event’s 44-year history.
“We had had a strong team at the Olympia’s Tour and Roubaix, and I was able to come away with the win at both races,” Phinney said. “It’s been a good season, and more than I hoped for. The logical next step is to test myself against the pros. If I hadn’t had such good early season I might have considered waiting a bit longer, but when I look at the (Trek-Livestrong) team’s schedule in the U.S., with the Tour of Missouri cancelled, the only races are Cascade and the Tour of Utah. So to ride as a stagiaire for RadioShack is best, both for experience and for race days.”
Phinney said his major objective for the second half of the season is to take home the rainbow jersey at the world under-23 time trial championship, held September 29 in Geelong, Australia.
Which races he’ll use to prepare for that bid are still to be determined. He may race a few select events with RadioShack, such as the August 4-8 Tour of Denmark, or the one-day Paris-Brussels, held September 11. He’s also eyeing the September 5-12 Tour de l’Avenir, the under-23 stage race run by Tour de France organizers Amaury Sports Organisation, which he would contest in U.S. national team colors.
It’s a decision Phinney will have to make in the coming weeks; last week’s news that RadioShack wasn’t invited to the Vuelta a España means spots on the team will be harder to come by in August and September.
“L’Avenir is big focus, both for the time trial stages and the sprint stages,” Phinney said, adding that he would also ride in support of recently crowned national under-23 time trial champion Andrew Talanksy.
Talansky, who rides with the Cal Giant amateur team and was the best young rider at Gila, won a stage and finished second overall last month at Spain’s Volta Tarragona, and more recently won a stage of Tour des Pays de Savoie on June 19. He recently signed a deal to ride with Garmin-Slipstream starting in 2011.
“I’m looking forward to racing with (Talansky),” Phinney said. “He’s a savvy guy. He’s shown he knows how to win bike races.”
Though he bypassed the under-23 national championships in favor of staying in Europe and taking a rest, Phinney said he’s considering entering the USA Cycling Professional Road Championships in Greenville, South Carolina, held over the September 18-19 weekend.
Because of his raw talent Phinney has excelled in the junior and under-23 ranks, as well as at the elite level on the velodrome, but he’s aware things won’t be as easy at the ProTour level.
Asked what sort of rider he sees himself developing into, the 6-foot-4, 180-pound Phinney pointed to the two most dominant classics riders of today.
“If I had to pinpoint a rider my qualities are most like, I’d say I’d like to be a mix of Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen,” Phinney said. “I’ve just figured out that I have a sprint I didn’t know I had. That was a half-confidence thing, and half experience. I’m learning new things about myself every year, but I think when it comes to sprinting and time trials, I will be there. At the beginning of my career I know the classics will be a huge focus. Whether it’s pave or short climbs, I’m a big guy, and I’ll look for races that require a lot of power. I think Fabian and Tom both make races pretty exciting, and that’s going to be my job — to try to win and bring attention to the sport, and make it exciting. And to be the best Taylor Phinney I can be.”